WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton salvaged her presidential candidacy yesterday with turnaround victories in Ohio and Texas that could prolong the Democratic campaign for months.
On the last big primary day of the season, Clinton won Ohio and Rhode Island and, based on network projections and incomplete returns, also scored a win over Barack Obama in Texas.
Obama, who won the Vermont primary, holds a virtually insurmountable lead in pledged delegates allocated in primaries and caucuses. He has also cut Clinton's edge among superdelegates over the course of the primary season.
But Clinton made it clear last night that she intends to continue her campaign for at least seven more weeks, when Pennsylvania holds the next major primary.
"We're going on. We're going strong, and we're going all the way," she told a boisterous victory rally in Columbus, Ohio, with her daughter, Chelsea, beside her.
"Millions of Americans haven't spoken yet. In states like Pennsylvania, and so many others, people are watching this historic campaign and they want their turn to help make history. They want their voices to count and they should."
Obama responded minutes later by congratulating Clinton. He also directed his comments toward John McCain, whom he congratulated earlier by phone after the Arizona senator clinched the Republican nomination.
"No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning, and we are on the way to winning this nomination," Obama told an outdoor rally in San Antonio, where he was joined by his wife, Michelle.
Obama said Clinton and McCain were wrong to dismiss his campaign message as "empty." He said there was nothing empty about his call for affordable health care, adding that his goals included restoring pride in America and its reputation abroad.
Yesterday's primaries ended Clinton's post-Super Tuesday victory drought. Two weeks of intense campaigning by the New York senator and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, produced her best big-state showing in a month.
In Ohio, white voters, especially white women, were key in her effort to hold off Obama, as they had been in New Hampshire, where she pulled out a crucial victory. In Texas, an avalanche of Latino votes for Clinton more than offset Obama's strong support from African-Americans.
Even with victories in Ohio and Texas, Clinton would still face a steep climb in the final 10 states of the primary season, which ends in early June. Her campaign acknowledges that she isn't likely to overtake Obama in pledged delegates.
Obama is expected to pad that lead in the Wyoming caucuses this weekend and in the Mississippi primary next Tuesday.
Running behind in the delegate count, Clinton is playing for time. She has been reminding reporters that her husband didn't wrap up the 1992 nomination until June of that year.
Her next big target is the April 22 contest in Pennsylvania, a state that could favor Clinton.
Even if she closes out the primary season with a string of victories, she would still need to convince the overwhelming majority of about 350 uncommitted superdelegates - elected officials and party activists who are free to support any candidate - that they should back her.
Her campaign is making a case to superdelegates that a late primary surge by Clinton justifies going against the wishes of voters who participated in the nomination process this year. Obama is expected to finish the primary season, in early June, with more "pledged" delegates won in primaries and caucuses, a calculation that Clinton's campaign has not challenged.
But Clinton would argue that her performance in the later contests, and perhaps other evidence - such as national polls - show that she would be the party's strongest nominee in November. The struggle for the support of superdelegates could easily become prolonged, and it might well extend the nomination fight until the week before Labor Day, when delegates gather for the national convention in Denver.
A drawn-out struggle for delegates could also put renewed attention on disputes over seating delegations from Michigan and Florida. The Democratic National Committee stripped both states of convention delegates because they held primaries in violation of party rules.
Both states still could hold party-sanctioned delegate contests, though none is currently planned.
The Clinton campaign argues that delegates should be apportioned in line with the primary vote in Florida, where both candidates' names were on the ballot and Obama's national advertising buy on CNN was seen by state voters. In Michigan, Clinton's name was on the ballot; Obama's was not.
With the nomination on the line, an increasingly acrimonious debate between the two campaigns continued into the evening.
While the caucus portion of the two-stage Texas delegate process was under way last night, the Clinton campaign held a conference call with reporters to complain about what state campaign manager Ace Smith called "disturbing" and "outrageous" violations of party rules by Obama supporters.
An Obama campaign counsel crashed the call and accused the Clinton camp of raising similar objections "in every caucus that you lose."
In Ohio, Election Day interviews with voters as they left polling places suggested that Obama might have been hurt by a flurry of charges and countercharges in the final days of the campaign.
Questions were raised about his religion and his ties to an indicted Chicago patron, Tony Rezko, as well as reports that an Obama economic adviser told Canadian officials to discount the candidate's criticism of the NAFTA trade deal. In Texas, Clinton ran a TV ad - the subject of intense news coverage nationally - that tried to raise doubts about Obama's ability to deal with a national security crisis.
Exit polls in Ohio and Texas also found that voters felt that Clinton has a clearer plan for the country's problems. In both states, she campaigned over the past two weeks on the slogan "Solutions for America."
In both states, the exit poll found, late-deciding voters tilted heavily to Clinton. About one in five voters in each state made up their minds in the last three days. In Texas, she had a 23-point advantage in that group, and in Ohio, an 11-point edge.
She carried white women by 32 percentage points. By comparison, in Maryland, which she lost, her advantage among white women was 18 percentage points. She also lost white men in Maryland by 3 percentage points; in Ohio, she won white men by 11 points.
OHIO (86% reporting)
x-Clinton 55% Obama 43%
RHODE ISLAND (98%)
x-Clinton 58% Obama 40%
Clinton 51% Obama 48%
x-Obama 60% Clinton 38%